If you have a deep fear of socialising – known as social phobia or social anxiety – it means you’re more than just a bit shy or introverted. Social anxiety doesn’t just come out for parties; it affects your confidence every day, everywhere you expect to mix with others, whether at work, school, or in your relationships.
Do you worry excessively about meeting strangers or how you’ll start a conversation? Do you think you’ll make a fool of yourself in front of other people? Do you hate talking on the phone or to sales assistants in shops? If you answered ‘yes’ to any – or all – of these questions, you may well have social anxiety disorder.
Other signs you have social anxiety include avoiding eye contact with people, often feeling sick, sweaty or having heart palpitations around others, and even panic attacks where you suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of fear.
If you find you’re doing everything you can to avoid social activities, or can’t stop worrying about them before, during, and even after the event, it’s worth trying to find out why you feel that way and possibly seeking out social anxiety treatment
Fear of social interaction is a common issue for teenagers, and those difficult years of transition are often when the problem begins. Many people effectively ‘grow out of it’ as they age, but for many others it stays put, developing into a long-term condition that can have a huge impact on their lives.
If you do have acute social anxiety it can also be linked to other mental health issues, such as depression or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). So it’s worth considering whether you need to address another issue in overcoming your social anxiety too.
There’s a lot you can do to deal with social anxiety. As with other types of anxiety, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a highly effective approach – and is usually considered the best treatment for all types of social anxiety and low self-esteem.
You can work on this yourself by examining your feelings: try to understand where your thoughts and behaviours come from, and why you react the way you do in certain social situations. Learning how to relax is essential. Start with breathing exercises to help you stay calm and focus your mind. When considering how others perceive you, try to hear what they are actually saying, rather than making assumptions about how they feel.
Beyond your own self-help, a trained CBT therapist or counsellor can offer you further guidance and support. You can also take a course of antidepressants if your social anxiety is particularly severe. But it’s usually recommended as a last resort.
Whatever route you take, remember that social anxiety is a common problem, and you can overcome it.